Chapter 103:

Ariana

Mad God


“Was it Ren?” Frenir’s voice came, coming up to Aerthus just as he was putting away the communication crystal of his. They were thousands of kilometers away from the Sect, on a training journey with his disciple.


“Yes.” He nodded, turning towards the charming looking, young adult before him who just finished his meditation. He was slowly stopping his affinity’s effects while still, small, white light specks glittered around him. “She had some news to report.”


“Did something happen?” He asked with a curious expression, standing up, patting his butt.


From the outside Frenir looked like a fit, young adult, wearing his hair in a topknot, donning his uniform in a prim and proper way, exuding an elegant air. Only his Master and senior sister knew inside he was still a child, loving being spoiled and running off to play anytime he could. The discrepancy came from his special ability. As he cultivates, time automatically speeds up for him, separating him from the surrounding stable space-time, letting him crunch years of progress into months.


“Nothing you should worry about! More importantly, did you work it out?”


“Yes!” He answered excitedly, then his aura started to vibrate and expand around him. “The Lighthouse blinks every second day.” Frenir smiled as his body turned hazy and slowly disappeared.


When he reappeared he was hundreds of meters away. It only took him a second or two to do so. He was waving and grinning, before once again, disappearing and reappearing beside Aerthus who just smiled proudly.


“How long can you use it?”


“At least 15 minutes! It is still weird to move in a different time frame than the world… makes my skin crawl! The colors disappear, the sounds become creepy and slow, like from a horror story!” He moaned as he explained it to his Master.


Aerthus listened intently and with a smile as only Frenir could come up with something like this. Even though it was him who guided the young boy along. Frenir got the idea from when Aerthus taught him about star formations, when they were out and resting for the night. The Lighthouse up in the sky was something he and Lily named as a cluster of stars formed a tower looking picture. If watched carefully, at the top sat a bright, twinkling star that only showed up every second night, going invisible for the next one. This gave the idea for Frenir to use his affinity similarly.


When utilizing his affinity consciously, activating it by will, the world turned black and white for him as it slowed down everything, separating Frenir from reality itself, placing the boy outside of time essentially. This way he could move at normal speed, while to others it would seem like teleportation. Yet if he wanted to interact with the world he needed to reenter the normal timeflow, making his affinity an on and off ability with a buffer zone in the middle. That was not the most ideal in battle.


This is why he came up with the idea to, in his mind, preprogram his energy, making it acting like The Lighthouse. When activating his affinity, for around 15 minutes it would switch on and off by itself, every two or three minute, giving him the ability to take advantage of moving “fast” and also attack or defend when he “reappears” in reality. This way he could focus on everything else and let his subconscious operate his affinity.


“Good job! Now you need to work on it, expand its function and timeframe, shrinking down the buffers when you appear and disappear.” Aerthus patted his shoulders.


“Will do, Master! Fufufu, this is going to surprise senior sister! I can’t wait to finally beat her!”


“Ahaha, don’t be overconfident yet! When you rejoin the normal timeflow, you give out fluctuations and clear indications where you are going to reappear! Someone stronger and sharper could pick up on it and counter you before you even know. That is how Demigods fight, you know.”


“Oh… I did not know that…” He said, already thinking.


“No worries, we are going to hone it so it goes seamlessly! Ahaha, this is still great Frenir, others could not prepare for something like this! If you act decisively they are toast before having a chance to adapt!”


His encouraging words lifted up the boy’s spirits greatly, ready to continue training, forgetting about asking anymore what was happening back at the sect. While he was immersed in his training, other disciples were also fired up just as much as he.


“Guys, guys!” one of the outer disciples stormed into his dormitory room, almost falling over in his own feet, panting heavily.


“What? Someone stole your missions again, Lupar?” one of his friends laughed as Lupar was known to visit the Mission Hall every day, looking for new tasks to complete, often getting into squabbles with others if they took up some he also had his eyes on.


“No, yes, but who cares!” He said, stumbling over his own words.


“Huh?” almost everyone present looked at him now, more and more curious what was going on. It was weird, coming from the outer disciples’ most prominent contribution point hoarder and loan shark.


“There is an announcement! Junior Sect Head is going to host a competition! Submitted B-Tier spells are going to be graded and the top 50 gets rewards! The top 10 gets special rewards from the judges and the top 5 gets rewards from her, personally!”


“Huh. Interesting. But… Why does this affect us?” one of the older disciples asked as most here were between the age of 14 and 18, Lupar himself being only 16.


“Yeah, most of us are still at the beginning of cultivation, can’t even make our own spells!” another laughed.


“And competition like this is going to be dominated by the Inner Disciples anyway!” one of the girls sighed.


“No, no, no… you see… the announcement says, if your idea is good enough and the technique can be developed, it is also eligible to participate! In other words, they accept not just already usable skills but those that are only theories too!”


At first it was quiet but after everyone's brain processed the information, they erupted into frenzy, scrambling to either go and check for themselves or straight rushed to sign up. Most of the outer disciples attended Isha’s weekly, open lectures that not just explained how cultivation worked but also broke down spells, fights or battles between cultivators, giving a window to them for how cultivation really works.


No wonder that after years of detailed breakdowns, a lot of disciples had ideas about how they would design their own spells, based on their awakened affinity. Everyone here went through Aerthus’s test, their dreams still vivid in their memories. Since then a lot of disciples were obsessed with replicating the feeling and the spells they used there. Using what they learned about energy, energy points and how it flows inside their bodies, some succeeded, already advancing into the ranks of Inner Disciples.


Soon the dorm room, where usually 10 outer disciples stayed, was empty, leaving behind only one soul, a young girl, who sat on her bed. She was unbothered, legs crossed, remaining on her own, reading a book, slowly flipping through its pages. Her light-green eyes flashed for a moment, closing the book, tucking her wavy, long, light-brown hair behind her ear, looking around the empty room.


“Why hurry?” She whispered, standing up, fixing her uniform, before walking out, going in a completely different direction than her roommates. Even as the dorm slowly started to buzz, as more and more disciples learned about the news, she just left the building, going towards the Garden. She worked there, earning contribution points that she always spent on audio recordings of Ren’s lectures to the Inner Disciples. They were never cheap but since she started doing it, she already reached the 2nd stage of body refinement and was ready to advance anytime to the 3rd.


When the Sect Opening happened, she was only an orphan, who lived in the Qun kingdom. It wasn’t the first time that she remained alone, as she was found as a baby, crying in a trash bin, bloody and her umbilical cords still attached to her. Luckily for her, she was found in time and then taken care of by a poor couple. Even if they couldn’t afford it, they couldn’t leave a newborn baby to die. They couldn’t bring themselves to do it. Sadly, three years before the selection happened, they passed away after a cold winter, leaving her alone once again. She was only left with one of their gifts, a wooden bracelet, with her name, Ariana carved into it. Living as a poor citizen and then an orphan, made her personality cautious and she only acted when she felt like it was assured that everything was going to go smoothly.


One of her only impulse actions, through her 15 years since being alive, happened when she was only 9 years old and the transparent bridges appeared. She stepped onto one, traversing through a magical dream. It was weird as she was a powerful cultivator in the dream, shrouded by darkness, wearing it as dress, yet it wasn’t a fearful experience, nor saddening. At least, at first… She walked around the world, drawing in others’ negative, dark thoughts or experiences, controlling it as she wished. This way she was ridding them from misfortune and giving them a good life that she couldn’t have. Yet when her enemies came and her friends in the dream were threatened she fought…


Since then, whenever she thought back to the way she dealt with her enemies sent shivers down her spine. The darkness around her came alive, hellish creatures climbed out of her “dress”, tentacles, sickle like arms, demons stretching out from the abyss. Nightmarish horrors with multiple jaws and bloodshot eyes swarmed her enemies, tearing not just their bodies apart but even their souls, consuming them like snacks, crunching, munching and slurping them up.


“I need to understand myself before taking a step forward… if not, who knows what I may become or what I unleash to the world…” she thought to herself as she immersed herself into her memory, watching her own hand that overlapped with the one in her dream.


When she stepped off of the bridge, she was dizzy, scared, and didn't know if she would break down crying or just let her pee flow freely. Being only 9 years old, it was a miracle she didn’t break down there and then and could regain her composure after taking deep breaths. Yet the experience stayed with her. As she had no cultivation whatsoever back then, yet she was still accepted, she spent the next years with other, young children who could now call the Sect their home. They were taking normal, regular courses, teaching them the basics; reading, math and everything they would need in life later on.


As the years passed by, even though she was reserved and rarely interacted with others, she was never bullied or completely left out of group activities, finding a new family in the Sect. Soon others awakened their affinity as they got older and when she turned 13, hers also showcased itself. From that moment, when she heard Isha’s words, who told her that her affinity was darkness, she knew what she dreamt about could turn to reality.


It was not because she had lower aptitude or talent, that after 2 years, she only advanced two stages. She refused to take the next step before understanding everything about herself and her new powers.


“Oh? Ariana? You are early, the sun is still up!” Rem laughed, flying up to her as she arrived at the Garden.


“Elder Rem!” She cupped her hands, bowing with a calm expression.


“Elder? Nooo, I’m not one!” The little fairy laughed happily “I’m just good with plants! But you are a great help, tending to the flowers that bloom in the night… not many wishes to help me out with that!” She sighed, shaking her head.


“I feel more at ease when the sun is down.” Ariana answered honestly as since her affinity awakened, she found herself drawn to the dark. The sun became more and more of a hindrance, making her feel weaker. “And it’s quiet at night, I like strolling through the flowers and herbs, it is calming.”


“Calming?” Rem tilted her head “But you always look calm!”


“Am I?” She raised her eyebrows a little but she found it possible as it was hard to see herself from an outside perspective. But why would Rem lie about it? “Maybe I am.” she sighed a little.


“Oh, yes, yes! Tonight, you need to be extra careful!”


“Why?” She asked, a bit surprised as her heartbeat sped up.


“Ah… Big Sis’s pet was spanked today because she ate one of her finished artifacts…” Rem murmured with a weird smile “When she is unhappy she usually tries to sneak in and eat some of the herbs! I always keep a stash of them at the side, just for her, but Elder Dermitos asked for a big batch yesterday… I have no spares to give her! She didn’t appear throughout the day and I couldn’t talk with her! So my guess is, she will come at night, find her snacks missing and she won’t be happy... Don’t worry, you don’t need to stop her, if you see her, just crash this!” She gave her a small, green, jade coin “This is going to alert Big Sis!”


“Directly alerting the… Junior Sect Head?” Ariana gulped. Her young face remained calm on the outside but inside her heart was beating so quick, like a wardrum.


“Uhum!” Rem nodded happily “She can’t keep an eye on Kyu every moment as now she works in the Artifact Department, that is why she sent out a lot of these, ehehe… But don’t worry, Kyu is really friendly, just a bit dumb… ehehe, a fluffy dumb-dumb but she is nice if you get to know her!”


“I’ll… keep my eyes open!” she nodded firmly.


“Thank you!” Rem laughed, giving her a white, root-like plant, only 5cm long, recently dug out, still smelling like fresh grass and earth after a rainy day.


“This?”Ariana blinked her eyes surprisedly as she immediately recognized it, being one of the ingredients in the energy recovering pill’s recipe.


“A little thank you! You can exchange it for a lot of points!” Rem winked at her “You can borrow a new record of Big Sis’s lecture then!”


“I… I can’t…” She stuttered, as this was not something an outer disciple would have access to.


“You can! I decide the rewards and punishments here!” Rem laughed, flying around her happily, leaving behind sparkling, sweet smelling dust clouds. “You are always punctual and hard working!” She gave a friendly kiss on her face before waving and flying off, leaving a stunned Ariana there with little tears sparkling at the corner of her eyes.